Saturday, November 15, 2008

High court clears way for execution

Times staff and wires

TALLAHASSEE — Convicted murderer Wayne Tompkins is one step closer to the execution chair after the Florida Supreme Court lifted a stay of execution on Thursday.

Tompkins, 57, killed his girlfriend's teenage daughter 25 years ago in Tampa. The stay had been set to expire Tuesday, but the justices dissolved it Thursday, six days after they denied three separate appeals by Tompkins.

A spokesman for Gov. Charlie Crist said a new execution date has not been set. Tompkins is also pursuing appeals in the federal courts.

Tompkins was convicted of strangling 15-year-old Lisa DeCarr with her bathrobe sash at her mother's home. Tompkins told authorities she had run away from home, but her remains were found buried under the house 15 months later.

On Nov. 7, the Florida Supreme Court denied the death row inmate's appeals, but in a pointed dissent, one justice questioned the conduct of the Hillsborough prosecutor who handled Tompkins' case 23 years ago.

There are allegations that former Assistant State Attorney Mike Benito urged a key state witness to embellish his testimony, Justice Harry Lee Anstead reminded his colleagues.

In an interview last month, a jailhouse informer maintained that Tompkins had confided to him how he strangled 15-year-old Lisa DeCarr in March 1983. But the inmate said for the first time that Benito instructed him to tell jurors DeCarr was buried under her Tampa home with a purse, a detail the informer did not recall hearing from Tompkins.

Benito told prosecutors last month he never coached the witness.

Tompkins' attorney has said he has more appellate options to pursue. The new revelation from the witness is just one of many concerns attorney Martin McClain has about the state's case.

"This is one of the most troubling cases that I have," he said. "The evidence against Mr. Tompkins is just absurd."

Information from Associated Press and Times files was used in this report.

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